I’ve been meaning to write down my thoughts on Google Glass for quite a while now. However, I thought it a bit hypocritical to critique it without trying it out first.
Small problem: I live a very long way from Mountainview, CA. And the Glass isn’t coming to New Zealand any time soon. So what are my chances of even taking a look at Glass in real life, let alone commenting on its usefulness - at least for a couple of years until it is available here.
Turns out, pretty good.
Through my ultra-connected sister-in-law, Wendy, I got to meet and hang out with world-renowned photographer and geek Trey Ratcliff the other week. Since Trey and his Glass are not often parted, and since he is a pretty cool guy, he had no problem letting Wendy and I try out the (as far as we know) only pair of Google Glasses in the country.
(Please excuse the photo: iPhone 4S + low-light + me as a model = not so good.)
So, first impressions? Well, wearing Glass and playing around with its features for a while confirmed for me what I had suspected before trying it on: that it is definitely first generation hardware, that it is a fascinating concept, and that I think it definitely will have some use cases for consumers - but maybe not the ones the media are currently focusing on.
On the first point, the hardware is 1st gen. You can tell when you wear them that this is a step above a prototype…but not a big step. They are comfortable enough, though, and not as distracting to wear as I would have thought. The actual Glass ‘screen’ image is also not quite as transparent as I would have thought or hoped. You can see the four corners of the display, and when it is active (at least in the low-light settings of a restaurant at night), you can see the background behind the ‘Ok Glass’ text as a semi-opaque white square. I guess I hoped that it would just be the text that was visible, not the ‘background’, but I’m pretty sure that’s beyond their engineering capabilities at this stage.
In terms of the concept, it is indeed fascinating. Being able to ask a question and have the answer appear, or take a photo hands-free, or reply to messages and get directions without taking your phone from your pocket - it really does feel like the next level of personal computing. I mean, in the same way that the Motorola DynaTAC must have felt like the next level of telephony. In years to come, I’m sure we’ll look back with the same sense of mirth at the photos of people wearing Glass as we do today at people holding those giant phones to their heads (usually in 80’s movies.)
In terms of the potential use cases, this is where I maybe stand apart from a lot of the other commentators in terms of my views on Glass. See, I personally don’t think that the camera functionality is the ‘killer app’ on the device. I think, rather, that the heads-up display (HUD) is. This is what feels like the new feature, and what is more in tune with where science fiction would have us think we are heading anyway.
Being able to have information overlaid on the reality in front of you is very powerful. This is not something this generation of Google Glass has got quite right yet, and it is not something which is obvious if you’re just using it for reading text messages. But, if a future version of the platform could augment reality by providing another layer of context to what we see around us, I think that would be huge!
Is it suitable for all situations? I don’t think so. If the rumoured partnership with Warby Parker is true, then the aesthetic problem is bound to be solved at some point. Provided the connectivity and battery issues can be solved too, then there won’t be anything stopping people from wearing these all the time - save for some of the emerging, alarmist legislation that is starting to appear (particularly focused on the camera functions, incidentally.)
But to me, I think these are going to be more like reading glasses or sunglasses than wear-all-the-time glasses. Think about it: when would it be useful to access information (e.g. directions) without using your hands or looking away from in front of you? Driving, perhaps? Riding you bike? Out walking the dog? Carrying shopping bags back to the car? These are All situations where I might be wearing purpose-focused glasses - like sunglasses - and all situations where Glass may also be of use.
So, while there will be the Treys and Scobelizers of this world - who will wear them nearly all the time - I’m just looking forward to wearing them sometimes.
Preferably sometime soon!